A situation that has produced tensions between European powers amid the Libyan conflict over recent months is the alleged support that France is providing to Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA). In tandem, Libya’s former European colonial ruler, Italy, and other European Union member-states support the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), which Haftar does not see as legitimate.
France and Italy have long competed for influence in the Maghreb, nonetheless, the current situation in Libya has heightened tensions between both countries, leading to rather incendiary statements by Italian officials. While supporting different actors, Paris and Rome ultimately share many interests in Libya’s future. Neither would like to see extremist groups gain a long-term foothold in Libyan and both countries would like for a political settlement in Libya to help Europe deal with the arrival of refugees and migrant workers from African and Arab countries.
Regardless of these common interests in Libya, France and Italy have extremely different strategies for advancing them. Italy believes that France’s pro-Haftar policies have been dangerous and fuel further instability.
In fact, In January, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister, Matteo Salvini, argued that France “has no interest in stabilising the situation, probably because it has oil interests that are opposed to those of Italy”. This led to a considerable outcry by French authorities, with Paris summoning Italy’s ambassador and demanding an explanation.
For President Emmanuel Macron, Paris’ alleged support for Haftar has been about countering perceived Islamist terror threats and enhancing France’s prestige on the international stage.
Given the long standoff in Tripoli, experts have grown increasingly pessimistic about the possibility of a diplomatic solution between Libya’s warring factions over the foreseeable future. In light of these circumstances, it is easy to imagine both France and Italy as well as Europe in general suffering from a heightened terrorism threat from Libya, as well mismanagement of migrant arrivals that have been fuelling the ascendancy of far-right views across the continent in recent years.
How the standoff on Tripoli will evolve and the extent to which this conflict might continue eroding the historically strong French-Italian relationship is difficult to predict. Yet the fighting in Libya is unlikely to end any time soon and it is difficult to imagine Paris and Rome finding themselves on the same page regarding the best strategy for the country.